Treas Manning is a woman of many talents.
By day she runs a successful ski shop in Truckee, California, but in her free time Treas is a photographer. And a really talented one at that. She studied Nature and Landscape at NY Institute of Photography and the skills she learned have translated well to her surroundings. She loves living in the mountains where her love of photography and the outdoors can complement each other.
Years ago she heard of a large herd of wild horses in eastern California. When she and her husband Herb, her "photo sherpa," came upon the horses there were only six, standing in a meadow. They were expecting more, a giant herd several hundred strong...so they decided to keep looking.
"We continued to skirt the meadow in our Jeep Wrangler when Herb noticed a big cloud of dust off in the distance in our rearview mirror. We thought some one was following us. They were moving quite fast. It wasn't long when we realized it was a large herd of horses in a full gallop toward us. We stopped and as the horses neared us they turned off and ran the length of this very long meadow of grass and sage."
They named the horses the Adobe Herd.
The large herd is actually made up of a bunch of little herds made up of six to twelve horses each. The wild stallion heads the herds and offers protection, but it is the lead mare of each sub-herd that brings the horses to water and grazing areas.
Treas told me a story of meeting a lead mare face to face as a herd thundered past:
"She would not take her eyes off me until her family unit was through the fence. I tried to take a couple of steps closer and she would start to come at me. So I stayed put and photographed them. "
The meadows in the eastern Sierras are often former ranch pastures. Many of these fields still have old corral fencing, which makes it difficult for the wild horses to freely move between meadows. As a result, many of the horses have scars from running through barbed wire. Much of the land has since been bought by conservancies to preserve the land for wild horses, and while most of the fencing has been taken down, there are still remnants dotting the landscape.
Over the years, Treas has gotten close to the horses and has learned about the magnificent animal through observation. She's watched as herds have forced colts out of the family unit as soon as they become stallions at around three years old, to avoid them mating with other mares in the herd. She has witnessed pregnant mares escape to the secluded hills to have her foals before later rejoining the herd.
She's noticed that horses spend the majority of their days asleep standing up and her favorite times of day to photograph them are dawn and dusk.
"They're the most interesting to watch in the coolness of the morning and evenings. They fight, play, and are quite vocal."
While Treas and Herb are careful and quiet when they are observing the horses, the herd genuinely seems curious instead of fearful. The couple has been up to visit the herd so many times that they can recognize certain members, enough so that they feel like the horses are their own. But they know that these American icons are "wild and free."
One summer, they decided to camp in the meadow to get some sunrise shots of the horses. While they may never camp there again, they had quite the experience:
"We had a summer tent with a mess top so you could see the stars. We could hear them whinnying in the darkness. It was like being in a cowboy movie. In the middle of the night we woke to what we thought was distant thunder. As it grew closer we realized it was a stampede. It was awesome and frightening. Hundreds of horse ran right by our tent in the darkness and our tent was blowing in the wind they generated. We thought we were in an area just outside the meadow free of horses. It is an experience we will never forget, but I do feel bad that as it turned out we camped in the middle of their trail system. We won't do that again."
The eastern Sierra Mountain range is not a forgiving place. The landscape is rugged and the elements are extreme. The animals that live there adapt to the harsh conditions and it is not uncommon to see lots of other wildlife; a coyote in the herd or the lone pronghorn antelope grazing alongside one of the horses, says Treas.
Wild horses currently find themselves in political crosshairs. The "Wild West" is shrinking rapidly and the vast swaths of land where wild horses used to roam are being divided up for cattle ranches and development. There used to be a million wild horses roaming public land in the West but there are now an estimated 75,000, while the land can support close to 25,000, respectively. The wild herds that are left often struggle to find food and fresh water, and those resources are then further decimated when cattle ranchers bring their own herds out to share grazing areas.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is tasked with caring for the wild horse herds and has done a controversial job so far. To reduce the number of wild horses that the land cannot support, the BLM rounds horses up and puts them in holding facilities to await adoption.
The job of protecting these horses will only get more controversial as the Trump Administration plans to cut the BLM's budget by 11% and the ban on horse meat at processing facilities was also lifted, which does not bode well for the horses that aren't adopted from the holding facilities.
Thanks to programs like the Extreme Mustang Makeover, that takes wild horses from the facilities and then trains them to be adopted out, and to fellow horse lovers who adopt when they can, some of these wild horses have found forever homes.
Solutions to the wild horse dilemma include fertility control, trap, neuter, and release for population control, humane euthanization, and adoption, all of which have their controversial pros and cons.
The wild horses of the West are an American icon but the reality is the lack of resources to support the beautiful animal. The BLM has a huge responsibility to preserve and care for the wild horses, and how they solve this issue remains to be seen.
Wild horse herds can be found in most of the West: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Montana, Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming. The wild ponies of Assateague Island in the Outer Banks in North Carolina also deal with their own human encroachment issues. Learn more about the Wild Horse and Burro program on the Bureau of Land Management website.
And check out Treas Manning's website for more incredible photography.
Tell us how you think America should protect wild horses in the comments below.
Photos used with permission by Treas Manning via treasphotography
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